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A search and rescue member says ‘considerable’ is considered normal risk for the area.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

In the days after an avalanche tore down a mountain above this small village and killed five snowmobilers, scores of locals were back on their machines, undeterred and powering through the alpine powder.

Snowmobiles are part of the culture of the Robson Valley, a sparsely populated area between two towering mountain ranges. The picturesque region is avalanche-prone, and the danger of a slide is constant. Locals say the risks are manageable, but they admit that, behind the rural grit, are years of loss.

"It isn't a form of disrespect, it's our way of life," said Denise Yungen, a former member of the community's search and rescue team, as well as a former head of the local snowmobile club.

"It can bother me that the risk is there. It's beautiful, but the mountains can be tragic. We've lost friends over the years," she said. "It's a managed risk."

The arrow on the avalanche-risk signs around town rest on orange for most of the winter, which means "considerable risk." According to the North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale, "considerable" represents "dangerous conditions" in which human-triggered avalanches are possible.

Avalanche Canada says last Friday's slide was triggered by human activity. Five Albertans were killed and another 12 people were in the way of the slide.

"Considerable" is considered the normal risk level for the area, according to Dale Mason, head of the search and rescue team.

"When the risk goes a step up, to high, people still go out, but they stay away from the steep slopes. That's only happened a few days this year," he said.

Avalanche warning signs are ubiquitous around McBride, and long yellow barriers are set up along the area's main highway ready to be automatically lowered in the event that the four-lane road becomes blocked.

Barry Walline, head of the local snowmobile club, told media after the avalanche that snowmobilers are now heeding the signs more. After he was buried in an avalanche, his own riding became more cautious.

"I play safer, and I don't ride with anyone else who doesn't adhere to those rules," he told media.

Ms. Yungen points out that the picturesque, smooth slopes on the mountains that surround the village, part of the charm that attracts people to the area, are avalanche risks.

"Some places go to the bowling alley, we take our snowmobiles up. It's something that the whole family can do," she said. "You go up there and it's a beautiful day. You just have the most wonderful views."

Snowmobiling helped the area recover after the local forestry sector largely collapsed in the early 2000s.

The loss of the industry left a string of picturesque villages without their main employers. Families decamped for larger urban areas, and local governments' revenues plummeted.

With the mountains attracting snowmobilers from neighbouring Alberta, the area's motels and restaurants are full during most winter weekends.

Local retailers sell about 32,000 passes annually for local snowmobile trails. Gas stations have snowmobile-only lanes, and snowmobile repair shops do brisk business.

While the village of McBride has fewer than 600 people, the local search and rescue team has about 24 active volunteers, with another six in training. They respond to about 30 calls annually.

The risks of avalanches are compounded by the speed with which they unfold. In as little as 10 seconds, a snowmobiler can be thrown from the machine and be in a possibly fatal situation.

According to Mr. Mason, a rider stuck in an avalanche would be enveloped in a thick mist of snow that makes breathing difficult. As the rider is thrown about in the slide, the snow warms up due to friction.

The moment the avalanche stops, the snow begins to harden into a thick layer with the consistency of concrete. Unless a person begins to move their arms and body immediately to create an airway and open a cavity in the snow where their chest can expand, it could be impossible to breathe.

Along with a well-prepared search-and-rescue team, the community also calls for proper training and equipment. According to first reports, all the riders affected by Friday's avalanche had the training and tools to survive.

"When you know what the risk is, you can avoid it," Ms. Yungen said. "My sons had proper training, so they know what to do and what not to do. They know the consequences. Death is final."

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